Indonesia says forest fire more under control

Indonesia says forest fire more under control

29 June 2013

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Indonesia — The rampant forest fire in Indonesia’s Sumatra island, which led to the thick haze in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, is now more under control, Indonesia Foreign Ministers Marty Natalegawa said Saturday, APA reports quoting Xinhua.
“It’s becoming more and more positive. As of now, the affected area is down to around 4,081 hectares, whereas previously it was as high as 16,500 hectares. So there has been a substantial reduction in terms of the area affected,” Marty told a joint press conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Singaporean Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam on the haze.

The foreign ministers are in Brunei for the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting and related meetings.

Marty said the number of hotspots has been fluctuating but now down to seven from the peak of 265 previously.

“Through combination of efforts from on the ground and from the air in terms of cloud seeding, water bombing and friendly weather . .. things are becoming more under control, but we must continue with the efforts because this is a commitment by the Indonesian government to ensure that we address the problem in a comprehensive way,” he said.

The smoke, largely attributable to forest fire from Indonesia, has driven air pollution to dangerous levels in Singapore and parts of Malaysia, causing a spat of words. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to the two neighbors later, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying it was gracious of him to apologize.

The three countries have agreed to bring forward a ministerial meeting on transboundary haze to July from August.

The air quality has improved in Singapore and Malaysia, partly thanks to the increase of rain.

Marty said the informal meeting on haze with his Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts was “very frank and candid, and very constructive.”

“We had not only exchanged information on the latest developments but also on how to take the matter forward, in terms of prevention, in terms of mitigation, if the situation were to occur again,” he said.

But the three ministers declined to comment on the details of their closed-door discussion.

Meanwhile, Marty said his country may need more time to put out the fire. “What we are dealing with is not simply forest fire or burning trees,” he said. “We are also dealing with burning peat, 10 or 15 meters underground.”

Peat is highly combustible even many meters down. A fire put out on the surface might smolder underground long after as smoke continue to come out.

Many in Singapore and Malaysia criticized Indonesia for failing to tackle the illegal practice of slash-and-burn in its rain forest areas to clear the land for the lucrative oil palm plantations.

Marty reiterated his government commitment to holding those responsible individuals or companies accountable, but stressed that it needs more time for thorough investigations.

A total of 18 suspects have been arrested, he said.

ASEAN reached an agreement on transboundary haze after the annual pollution reached its height in 1990s. Indonesia is the only ASEAN member that has yet to ratify the treaty.

While stressing Indonesia’s commitment to concluding the ratification process, Marty said his country “had actually been in full compliance and essentially following what is required in the agreement.”

“With or without (the ratification), we are already where we are in terms of carrying out the obligations contained within the haze agreement,” he said. “I think that’s the more preferred situation rather than having a nice legal framework that’s not operationalized.”

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